Soil and Wildlife
Livestock is the most efficient way of naturally managing pasture. With a thoughtful combination of livestock type, stocking density and grazing periods, livestock can help landowners look after their fields to improve soil health and produce areas that are both productive and rich in wildlife.
Healthy soil is fundamental to our future; to create a farming system that works in balance with nature and to produce good quality nutritional food. Soil that is healthy can function properly; it can naturally absorb carbon from the atmosphere through a process known as ‘sequestration’, which reduces harmful greenhouse gases. It can build our resilience to climate change by offering better drainage and improving flood risk, and it can allow us to produce better quality food with higher nutritional value, whilst simultaneously reducing the need for artificial fertilizers.
How does our livestock improve soil health?
When a plant or grass loses some of its above-ground leaves or stems it will immediately try to regrow as fast as possible. It needs nutrients to regrow, so it puts energy into the soil to acquire these nutrients. This process increases the health and efficiency of the soil and can increase the depth and organic matter content of the soil. We graze our livestock it a way that controls their access to the plants and grasses, so they eat a portion of the plant and then allow it to recover fully. Sometimes known as mob-grazing or paddock grazing, this approach to livestock farming gives the plants and soil the best opportunity to maximize the effectiveness of their natural process of adding nutrients into the soil.
Livestock eat the most nutritious top third of the forage plants and trample the stemmy and less nutritious stalks onto the ground, depositing a layer of dead plant material onto the surface of the soil called mulch. Along with the natural manure from our animals, this mulch helps build new healthy soil, reduces water evaporation, provides a habitat for bugs and other small organisms and creates organic matter.
Plants have evolved in environments where animal faeces were almost always available, so they have evolved to require these easily available nutrients for optimal growth. The other source of these extra nutrients besides animals are artificial fertilizers. The difference between animal manure and fertilizers is that animal manure when deposited naturally, is not harmful to soil organisms.
How do our livestock help to grow crops?
Arable farmers can grow a cover in between their main crops. Soil isn't naturally bare, so these cover crops provide valuable protection for the soil, protecting it from harsh weather and soil erosion. In addition, these cover crops often include grasses or legumes that naturally add nutrients into the soil. Our livestock go onto these cover crops improving the soil health through grazing, trampling and digestion.
How do our livestock work in partnership with nature?
Conservation grazing is an important part of managing grasslands and it’s where our passion for grazing started. The species rich meadows we have managed wouldn't exist without livestock. By grazing grasslands sensitively at the right times of year, beautiful wildflowers and other beneficial types of vegetation can thrive, creating fantastic habitats for butterflies and bees. A varied and rich vegetation not only supports our sheep and cattle enterprise, but also provides a habitat for an abundance of wildlife - a great example of how livestock farming and the environment can work hand in hand.
Often these special grasslands are on steep terrain, aren't particularly accessible or require managing in the wetter winter months; using machinery isn't the best option. The critically endangered Large Blue Butterfly was extinct in this country until reintroduced in a Gloucestershire based meadow which now has prescription conservation grazing to support it - the population is thriving there now. Ant hills are a micro ecosystem all in themselves. These little habitats support a huge variety of plants and animals and by grazing fields with ant hills rather than running heavy machinery across them you can ensure key meadow features such as these can be maintained.
We take a very careful approach to using medicines on our livestock and are mindful of when and where we apply any important routine treatments. For example, we know that dung beetle populations are great partners in improving soil health as they take all the cow manure into the soil. As well as the health of our livestock, we think it’s important we consider the time of year, location and weather and how this will impact all the little critters working on the farmland around us.